How Becoming Aware Of Your Breath Will Change Your Life.
We all have an amazing tool at our disposal, and it’s free: our breath.
Our breath not only keeps us alive but it is also an instrument that we can harness to cultivate focus, manage pain, deal with emotions, remain mindful and be present.
From an early age, many of us develop habitual breathing patterns which might not be particularly efficient. Practices like Yoga, qigong, mindfulness and meditation, bring our awareness back to our breath as well as opening up the benefits of engaging with it to nourish and heal the mind and body.
Here are some benefits of exploring our breath:
The sympathetic system pumps us up and is the initiator of our stress response. The parasympathetic system calms the body and is the initiator of our relaxation response. In a healthy system, these two halves of our autonomic nervous system typically turn off and on habitually in response to life events.
In today’s world, most of us tend to overstimulate our sympathetic nervous system and engage less with our parasympathetic nervous system, which significantly impacts our health contributing to illness and imbalance.
A consistent Pranayama practice helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which gradually reprograms our bodies’ gravitation towards an over-stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and significantly decreases the associated health risks.
Our breath is a great reflection point. In Yoga, our breathing can let us know when we are going too far. Usually when we stretch too deep or move too fast, our breath becomes impacted and it might become short and jagged. This is typically when we are most susceptible to injury.
A helpful maxim here is Out of breath, out of ROM (Range of Motion). The same idea can be applied to life. When we are moving too fast and pushing too hard, we lose sight of the present moment. We are no longer tuned in to our breath. It is at this point we may become susceptible and vulnerable to stress and illness.
Breathing practices are often talked about in terms of relaxation and meditation. They provide many benefits in this regard. However, breathing practices can also be harnessed to energize the body.
Alternate nostril breathing also expands and directs the flow of energy. It oxygenates blood, which can have a rejuvenating and revitalizing effect on the mind and body.
Observing breath is a great way to come back to the present moment. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, following our breath can be very grounding. It it can invite the gaze inwards so we can tune in with our more subtle states and sensations.
Many of us maintain an external gaze as we fulfill various work and personal commitments. This tends to keep us in quite a heady space; by coming back to our breath, we can tune in with our heart space, enabling us to connect with our feelings and intuitive voice.
Our breath has much to teach us. Our attitude to breath might mirror how we are living our lives.
Is our breath smooth and easy, or urgent and choppy? Do we allow our breath in fully to nourish our bodies, or are there areas where we don’t allow the breath to travel? Do we release our breath completely, or do we hold on to it, scared of letting go? Do we try to control breath too much, and so lose a sense of spontaneity and natural flow?
As we take time to listen to our breath and practice various breathing techniques, we can connect with profound insights about how we are living and looking after ourselves which can greatly improve our health and overall well-being.
Drawing attention to breath and engaging with breathing techniques is a great way to reduce mental, physical and emotional tension in response to pain; it offers an opportunity to move through the pain instead of resisting it.
On a psychological level, during moments of great pain and suffering, observing the breath can help to channel focus, shift attention into other sensations and experiences on the felt level, which might help to contextualize the pain.
On a physiological level, as we learn to engage with the fuller capacity of our breathing apparatus, we improve the health of our organs, build up a stronger immune defense, and cleanse our system, which helps us to fight infection and detoxify the body.
On an emotional level, by remaining present with our breath, it can help cultivate a sense of acceptance and letting go of pain which offers us a pathway to move forward from whatever we are confronting.
Clive Fogelman lives in London and currently works as a Yoga and meditation teacher. He is also a qualified Group Work Practitioner with the Institute of Group Analysis. He has an open-minded approach to his work, influenced by his psychotherapeutic and sporting background. He enjoys helping people to cultivate intuition within their bodies, mindful that all individuals are different and continually evolving. Drawing on the parallels between Yoga, meditation and life, the mat becomes a playground for exploration and transformation. Away from teaching, Clive loves writing. He is currently working on a book about his time with cancer and developing a range of children’s books. He also recently developed the Life Sequence, a unique Yoga sequence that takes people on a journey from birth to death combining Yoga, meditation and guided visualizations. You could contact Clive via his website, Facebook or Twitter.